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Archive for February, 2009

Crushing

“So He told His disciples that a small boat should be kept ready for Him because of the multitude, lest they should crush Him.  For He healed many, so that as many as had afflictions pressed about Him to touch Him.”  Mark 3:9-10

Repeatedly in the gospels we read the accounts of Jesus being thronged or pressed by the crowds.  He gained quite a reputation as a miracle worker and there were many in Israel that needed a miracle.  Most places He went there were large crowds and all of them were trying to get near Him….because they needed something from Him.

Yes, we are very needy.  And God knows we are very needy.  He has promised to meet those needs and has told us we can come and ask.  What a wonderful privilege.  But our coming to Him is not restricted to presenting our needs.

I am learning to be wary in my life of this tendency to come to Jesus only when I have a need.  He is so much infinitely more than the One who meets my needs, but sometimes I lose sight of this.  The needs in my life, which often give me a new revelation of just how not in control I am, magnify my need for Him.  But my need for Him is never less just because life isn’t spinning chaotically out of control.

Oh God, please help me remember this…..

Many will press against Him to get their needs met, but who will press against Him only to know Him?  Whose need for His Presence is desperate enough that it drives them to pursue Him relentlessly and recklessly?

Lord, I want to be one of these.

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But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. Matthew 15:18

 

Words – we often think little of them. They issue forth from our lips in an endless stream of superfluous babblings. Lightness and triviality are the order of the day. Caught up in the incessant flow of things better left unsaid, we find ourselves defiled by our own mouth.

How careless we are with our words, when Christ has told us “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.” Matthew 12:36

If we lived in the awareness of this one verse, we would speak more carefully and probably less frequently. Definitely less frequently.

I have been making an effort to be more aware of the words I speak. I can choose to speak words that bring honor and glory to the Lord Jesus or I can choose to speak words that are empty, or even worse, hurtful. Most of the problems occur when I bypass the step of choosing my words and let them come out of my mouth before being evaluated.

The book of Proverbs has much to say about our words. One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 10:19:

“In the multitude of words sin is not lacking; but he who restrains his lips is wise.”

I leave you with this final thought – Shhhhhhh

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As this year began, there was a restless stirring in my soul.  I couldn’t put a name to it, or identify a precise reason for it.  There was just this vague knowing that God was about to do something.  So I waited and prayed.  The prayer that seemed to spring from my heart unbidden, with a life of it’s own, was “Lord, what do I lack?”

The days turned into weeks, and yet there was no answer.  Still there was the question, “Lord, what do I lack?”  As truly as the Scriptures say that He will be found by those who seek Him, He did indeed send the answer.  It started with an email I received. (You can read it here)

As I read about the daily life of these believers, I was cut to the heart.  I had evaluated my walk with God by comparing my life with other believers that I knew.   But my error suddenly seemed so clear as I sensed the Lord saying “why have you assumed the American church is the proper standard of measure?”

I began to review my spiritual life and saw how I had bought into American church culture as normal and acceptable to God.  How about this phrase……God understands that you don’t have time to pray.  After all, you have:

 – a demanding job
 – family responsibilities
 – too much drama right now

Not only have I believed this, that God would just accept whatever I felt like giving Him based on how comfortable it was for me, but I had told this to other people.  But is this the way He reveals Himself in the Bible? 

He didn’t tell Abraham, “I understand how important Isaac is to you.  A good father should love his son intensely.”  No.  He said “put him on the altar and kill him.”

No gods before Me.  He still means that.  He still wants those Isaacs on the altar.  Some of them He will give back to us.  But others He will require us to plunge the knife into.  The choice is His.

David said, I will not offer to the Lord that which cost me nothing. (2 Samuel 24:24).  My discipleship has cost me very little.

I don’t want American Christianity.  I want radical, authentic Biblical Christianity.  Discipleship is being redefined in my life.  It is a journey into reality.  I expect that it will be revolutionary.

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.

So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.  Acts 2:42-47

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There’s an old adage that goes like this – “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”  I’ve seen the truth of this demonstrated many times in my own life and in the life of others.  I see it also in Numbers 11.

The people of Israel have just been miraculously delivered from 400 years of slavery in Egypt.   This group of people has never experienced freedom, but only the oppressive rule of Pharoah.  Throughout the time of their captivity, they cried out to God for deliverance.  He heard them and sent Moses.  Now they are free.

It’s hard to imagine what that must have felt like.  It seems as though the emotions would have been overpowering at times, especially as they witnessed the mighty power of God displayed on their behalf.

But after a year, the newness of freedom has worn off.  Manna from heaven is no longer quite so wonderful.  And the complaining begins.  Dissatisfied with what God has provided they listen to the voice of discontentment and make it their own.  But discontentment is a liar.

Discontentment lies about the past – “we remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.” (Num. 11:5)  Discontentment’s selective memory seems to have forgotten the bitter slavery, harsh taskmasters and forced murder of their children.  It paints a picture of the past that appears very appealing and then casts it before our eyes that we might gaze longingly upon it.

Discontentment lies about the present – “but now our whole being is dried up…” (Num 11:6).  Discontentment will always exaggerate the present difficulty, convincing you that it is unbearable and unreasonable to expect you to tolerate it.   Discontentment will convince you that you are a victim of circumstances, one unfairly treated, deserving so much better than what you have received.

Discontentment lies about the future – “who will give us meat to eat?” (Num 11:4).  The question implies that there is a fear that since they do not currently have meat, they will never have meat.  Discontentment always seeks that thing that it does not currently have and grumbles because it sees no means to acquire it.

Complaining, grumbling and murmuring are the companions of discontentment.  Where you find one, you will inevitably find the others.  There are a sneaky lot, and can come upon us stealthily.  But by the words of our mouth we can know if we have been caught in their net.

While discontentment may not be frowned upon in the world, it is most certainly frowned upon by God.  Numbers 11:1 says that “the Lord heard it, and His anger was aroused.” 

Our heavenly Father graciously allows us to ask Him for the things that we need.  He even allows us to ask for things that we desire.  But when all the asking is done, He expects that we will gladly receive what He judges best to give, with contentment.

We can safely be content, knowing that we have such a good Father who always gives us exactly what we need.

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A man who becomes aware of the sinfulness of sin, and the wrath of God against sin, is a man who will feel the need of having that sin removed.   This was the purpose of the scapegoat, who has had the sins of the people of Israel laid upon him on the Day of Atonement.  In “The Temple:  Its Ministry and Services” by Alfred Edersheim, we read the following about the scapegoat:

“Scripture tells us no more of the destiny of the goat that bore upon him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, than that they ‘shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness,’ and that ‘he shall let go the goat in the wilderness’ (Lev 16:22). But tradition supplements this information.

At last they reached the edge of the wilderness. Here they halted, viewing afar off, while the man led forward the goat, ….. leading the animal backwards, he pushed it over the projecting ledge of rock.

….though confessed guilt was removed from the people to the head of the goat, as the symbolical substitute, yet as the goat was not killed, only sent far away, into ‘a land not inhabited,’ so, under the Old Covenant, sin was not really blotted out, only put away from the people, and put aside till Christ came, not only to take upon Himself the burden of transgression, but to blot it out and to purge it away.”

Although the Scriptures clearly indicated that the goat was to be loosed in the wilderness, it was, in fact, killed.  How could the conscience be soothed knowing that the scapegoat was still wandering around in the wilderness and could potentially find its way back?  It seems that a living scapegoat would have left a feeling of an incomplete dealing with sin. 

But this, I am certain, was God’s intention.  Thus preparing the hearts of His people to joyfully receive the Messiah, Who would deal with sin once and for all.

For those who don’t know Jesus as Saviour, the guilt and weight of your sins remains on you.  You carry it with you everywhere you go, daily increasing their number.  In your quieter moments, you feel the weight of your sin.  There is this unexplainable sense of guilt.  And it makes you afraid.

But God has not only provided the scapegoat, He has killed the scapegoat.  Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, accepted on Himself the punishment that was due to us, for our sins.  Those who turn to Him for forgiveness will find that His payment on their behalf was sufficient to put away all sins for all time. 

This is the message of the gospel.   

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Unmoved

Anchored firmly, I’ll not waver
Though the storms rage all around
I’m gripped so tightly by my Saviour
I’ll not be moved by quaking ground

Though buffeted by trials and fears
My hope endures and has prevailed
No sorrow has the strength to slay me
Defeat is conquered, despair has failed

Jesus, all my hope and glory
Clinging to Him, I will stand
No darkness now shall make me stumble
It is dispelled at His command

So rage on, storm, my gaze is fixed
In Christ I find all fears allayed
My strength and peace in Him hold firm
My Solid Rock is never swayed

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“Indeed we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” 2 Corinthians 1:9

 

To read of the many difficulties the apostle Paul faced as he preached the message of the gospel, we understand that Paul was fully persuaded of this truth that he taught and the need of all men to hear it.  His message was the message of forgiveness through the cross – grace.  The very word, grace, was foreign to Paul’s vocabulary prior to his conversion.  Having been brought up and instructed in the ways of the Pharisees, he would have been exceedingly familiar with, and perhaps obsessed with, works.  How sweet the message of grace must have been for Paul.

But to receive this message of grace and all that it means by necessity means a change in dependency.  Whereas we have been accustomed to depending on our own goodness, now that we realize we have no goodness apart from Christ, we must depend on Christ instead of our own works.  And not only must we depend on Him for our salvation, but for all things.  For some of us it is a hard lesson to learn.

In my own life I have discovered that God is determined that I learn this lesson, bringing me time and again to the very end of my own abilities.  At this place of failure and frustration, I can do nothing else but rely on Him.  No other options remain.  That’s what this verse reminds me of.  Paul faced overwhelming circumstances and opposition in his ministry, to the point that he was certain that his very life was on the line beyond his own ability to preserve it.  But as he tells these things to the Corinthians, as he looks back at these events, he sees that even in these things, maybe especially in these things, the Lord is teaching him to rely fully on Him.  He even goes so far as to say that this was actually the reason why the Lord allowed these difficulties.

I still have a stubborn streak of independence.  I dislike it intensely and would be pleased if the Lord would just remove it once and for all.  But moment by moment, and choice by choice, my independence receives the sentence of death, that I may rely on Him in all things.

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